restoman: (Glenn)
[personal profile] restoman
I am back from the trip to Virginia. I drove down there on Wednesday, and drove back on Friday. John went with me, spending most of the travel time sleeping in the truck. That was OK. I did not have a serious problem with dozing off, made frequent stops for snacks and bathroom breaks, and took a half hour nap in the middle of the driving on both days. The drive south took 7½ hours (including the half hour nap). The traffic was generally light, and construction areas were minimally frustrating. I did all the driving. We made it to Leesburg, Virginia about 6 PM, checked in to a Best Western, and had dinner at a little Chinese restaurant in the heart of the historic district of Leesburg. The town was beautiful, with lots of restored 18th and 19th century buildings. Our stay at the Best Western was comfortable and pleasant, and about a third of the price we would have had to pay in Washington DC. Thursday morning was rainy and dreary. After our free breakfast at the motel, we jumped into the thick of the Thursday morning commuter traffic and headed in to Fairfax to get copies of my father's death certificate, and then on to the bank in Reston to meet up with my sister, and my niece and her husband.

The business at the bank was long and drawn out. I opened my father's safe deposit box to find a small cache of mostly obsolete papers: the deed to his house (which we sold a year before he died), the title to the car he wrecked 8 years ago, and a copy of his will (I already had a copy, and everything is dispersed now anyway.) For some time, my sister and I had speculated about the contents of that safe deposit box. When we were young, we had both seen a family heirloom, a gold filigree necklace studded with seed pearls, that had been in the family since the mid-19th century. The story was that the necklace had belonged to my father's great-grandmother. I last saw it at my mother's house on Long Island when I was about 12. My sister last saw it when she was about 18. We believed that my father had reclaimed it from my mother, 30 years ago, long after they were divorced, when he drove to Long Island for a family gathering. Unfortunately, the necklace was not in the box, and whatever happened to it will remain a family mystery. My sister and I closed out my father's account, and each went home with a nice fat bank check. The 5 of us had lunch at what had been my father's favorite restaurant, at the same strip-mall as the bank. Then we said our goodbyes. Linnell, Alida and Pat drove back to New York City, while John and I drove into Washington DC for an afternoon of touristing. As we drove, the gray skies and rain gave way to a pleasant, partially sunny day.

While we briefly stopped to see the Washington Monument and the White House, my main goal was to see a special exhibit at the National Postal Museum. For more than 50 years, I have wanted to see the "Penny Magenta", the most famous stamp in the world. It sold last year for 9.5 million dollars, and is by far the most valuable stamp, (and probably the most valuable object on earth for its size.) As a life-long stamp collector, getting a chance to see this rarely displayed, unique bit of legendary paper was like being offered a chance to see the Holy Grail! The stamp has spent most of its life tucked away in bank vaults, and has not been displayed in public for decades. At the museum, since light is the enemy of paper and ink, the stamp was carefully displayed behind several layers of glass, and people who wanted to see it could press a button to dimly illuminate it. The stamp was printed in 1856 on magenta-colored paper, in British Guyana, and was used for a very short time to pay the postage on local newspapers. This is the only surviving copy of this stamp, which despite its crude printing and somewhat shabby appearance has made it a legend. The stamp was difficult to see, and somewhat disappointing because of that, but still, I was thrilled to see it. John and I did a quick tour of the rest of the museum and then headed on back to Leesburg, again at the height of rush hour, to another Chinese dinner.

On Friday, after the complimentary breakfast, we drove back to Syracuse. On the drive home, we made slightly better time, shaving 20 minutes off the trip. There were persistent snow flurries through much of Pennsylvania and New York, but the snow wasn't sticking.
We got home a little after 4 PM. I was exhausted from the drive, but Lily was ecstatic to see me. Bob had taken good care of her while I was gone. I had been dreading this trip to Virginia, but, all things considered, it went very well. John had a good time and was glad to get out of Syracuse for a change. And I got to see Linnell, Alida and Pat, and had a once-in-a-lifetime look at the "Penny Magenta".

Historic Leesburg, Virginia.


A log cabin, built in 1760, in Leesburg.

The corner of the cabin, showing how the logs were notched together.

The Capitol, still decked in scaffolding.

The Washington Monument.

The White House, besieged by tourists.

The Postal Museum. It is housed in what was Washington's main post office in 1914.

The Postal Museum is in a spectacular Beaux Arts Style building, built in 1914, that was once home to the main Washington DC post office. It has coffered ceilings, marble floors and walls and bronze fixtures. It has all been restored to perfection.

Some of the bronze post office boxes and a bronze torchere.


The Penny Magenta, on the left. On the right is a better look at the stamp.

A better image of the stamp, borrowed off the internets.
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